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Farewell, Maphepha

By Mike Madoda

ONE of the many reasons I love sport are the characters within it. The personalities and the charismatic figures who are the very beating heart of any team and the life blood of any organisation.

The names we seek on a team sheet and the figures we expect to spot on the touchline. Football the world over has had its fair share of iconic figures and legends, inspirational characters who by sheer force of personality have etched their way into folklore. Larger than life characters who inject colour and life into the predominant rhythm of figures and statistics that the game is increasingly becoming.

In European football, few managers are as synonymous with one club as Bill Shankly is with Liverpool. When the Scotsman arrived on Merseyside in the late fifties, the Reds were struggling in the second tier of English football, Anfield was in disrepair and the club had little or no promising prospects. By the time he retired in 1974, Liverpool had won three championships, two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup.

Known for his personality and biting wit, Shankly was revered for the close relationship he held with the fans, and the adoration they bestowed upon him – their honest, determined and beloved leader. He breathed life into a sleeping giant, beginning the dynasty that would last until 1990, and in the process turning the club into the global brand and the international name it is today.

When the greatest managers in German football are discussed it Is inevitable that names like Franz Beckenbauer, Ottmar Hiztfield, Jupp Heynckes and Otto Rehhagel crop up. But not many modern fans have heard of, never mind know of Udo Lattek. Perhaps the finest manager in Bundesliga history, Lattek knew nothing other than winning — an incredible eight league titles with Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach are testament to his exploits.

It was not just league success which made Lattek so great. He won the 1974 European Cup with Bayern, the 1979 UEFA Cup with Gladbach, and the 1982 European Cup Winners Cup with Barcelona, making him one of just two men to lift all three – and the only one to do so with three different clubs. Lattek spoke the universally understood “language” of motivation, laced with an unapparelled charisma that drew the best out of those around him.

If Lattek is relatively unknown, Helerio Herrera even less so. The eccentric Argentine-turned-Frenchman was reputedly the first manager to bring focus onto the mind-set of players: both his own, and those of rival clubs. Herrera was a brilliant man-manager, using hair-raising motivational speeches and scathing attacks to help his teams fulfil their potential and to disarm opponents. Without his pioneering methods, Inter Milan might never have lifted consecutive European Cups in the mid-sixties.

Even here at home, Zimbabwe has been blessed with men who oozed charisma in the dugout. The late Steve Kwashi was known for his motivational prowess as much as his tactical acumen. Street-wise and canny, “the dude” as he was affectionately known, built arguably the finest Caps United side in living memory by installing near unbeatable belief in an already talented group of players. Just a few years before that, German coach Reinhard Fabisch had done the same with the Warriors, turning Zimbabwe into an adversary to be feared on the continent.

Shrewd, Fabisch knew when to play the psychological card to galvanise his players and fans alike. In a crucial World Cup qualifier against Egypt, he claimed to have been struck by a missile that drew blood, but some closer to the incident say he the wound was self-inflicted and that piece of skulduggery won Zimbabwe a replay away from the cauldron of Cairo and in the comfort of Paris. His former players and fans still talk about it to this day.

These were all men that had qualities and characteristics which made them popular or interesting in a way that set them apart – footballing figures who, in many cases, had an influence that extended beyond their teams.

Many of them combined controversy with charm, and almost all of them left an enduring legacy on the teams and players they worked with, and a lasting impression on the fans. And this week, death has robbed Highlanders of the conductor of the Bosso road show that swept all before it at the turn of the century, Ernest “Maphepha” Sibanda.

Maphepha enjoyed a brilliant playing career with both the Bulawayo giants and Caps United in the eighties, featuring alongside the likes of Tymon Mabaleka, Majuta Mpofu, Lawrence Phiri, Joel Shambo, Stanley Ndunduma and Stix Mutizwa.

Slight of frame in his playing days, he became larger than life as an administrator (pun intended) the most recognisable figure of Highlander’s 21st century renaissance — his charisma inspiring the loyal following of players and fans alike.

He always wore a confident smile that belied his inner strength and when he spoke, you listened — not out of fear, but from genuine interest and his apparent ability to make others feel important. He loved football, wanted to have fun and above all he was a winner. His emotional displays from the sidelines demonstrated his emotional character — he was there with the fans and players sharing in the highs and the lows.

Though it may have been Rahman Gumbo and Eddie May pulling the tactical strings as Highlanders stormed to four consecutive league titles between 1998 and 2002, it was Maphepha who created the atmosphere that allowed the likes of Thulani Ncube, Dazzy Kapenya, Melusi Ndebele and Siza Khoza to flourish.

Those players will remember him fondly, and so will the fans.

Farewell, Maphepha.

  • Follow Madoda on Twitter: @mikemadoda.

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